Week one of 2019: Settling into the abnormal

Some random thoughts on the eve of the first weekend of the new year:

The stubborn partial shutdown has hit Washington, D.C. the hardest, according to an index developed by WalletHub. The credit reporting site folded the share of federal jobs, contracting dollars per capita and a few other statistics into its index.

D.C.’s shutdown affected index, at 78.59 way outscored the second-hardest-hit state, New Mexico (65.95). Maryland was third hardest hit (65.7) and Virginia sixth (56.61). The least affected was Minnesota.

My take: If you are furloughed or working without pay, the index is probably of little relevance to you personally. But it does show that the effects fall unevenly across the country.

Dog-eared regulation

The Transportation Security Administration has a nose for news, sort of like a bloodhound. How else can you explain the outpouring of stories about the ears of its bomb-sniffer dogs?

News sites from coast to coast delighted in the story that TSA prefers — all else being equal — that the public encounter dogs without pointy ears. Ostensibly that’s because German Shepherds and similar-looking breed scare children.

Actually children can show fear of just about anything. Fears fade with the right kind of gentle exposure to the scary thing. My older granddaughter was afraid of our greyhound at first. Greyhounds have pointed ears that default towards slouched over. Soon she couldn’t wait to see the goofy former racer. A chaotic airport (is that a redundancy?) is not the best place to help kids overcome fears.

TSA should avoid affirmative action for flop-eared dogs and get the best nose for the job.

Put away the plunger

Or use it as a champagne flute. The Office of Personnel Management unhitched itself from the laughing stock. Bombarded with ridicule, it swept away online advice to unpaid employees that included offering to swap labor, such as plumbing repair, for rent relief.

The episode made me recall a junior high school music teacher and band leader. He was sort of a gruff guy. He could have been a longshoreman. In the summers he would supplement his income by helping repaint the cafeteria benches. One day a snobby English teacher, Miss F., commented on Mr. N. “slopping around in his overalls.” Wow. I remember thinking, “I’d slop around in overalls if it meant feeding the family.”

Labor crashes

Even full funding doesn’t save some departments from disasters. The Labor Department, with any luck, will Thursday get its iCERT site back up and running. That’s where seekers of H-2B visas go to get multi-agency approval to do temporary work in the U.S. It crashed five minutes into the 2019 filing season on New Year’s Day, as a matter of fact. Labor said nearly 100,000 people sought 33,000 available visas.

There’s a tech staff deep within Labor that’s sweating, so wish them luck.

The department also announced that its public affairs chief, Jeff Grappone, and its Wage and Hour Division acting chief, Bryan Jarret, both resigned effective by Saturday.

Whatever happened to Linda Ronstadt?

He’s never been a federal figure, but Jerry Brown has had a lot of impact nationally. I feel like he’s been on the scene forever. The 80-year old will have served a total of four terms as California’s governor. The state’s economic weight, its policies, and the size of its congressional delegation make it influential.

Twenty-eight years passed between Brown’s two stints. During his first tour in the governor’s mansion, he dated singer Linda Ronstadt.

In an entertaining but not-very-consequential interview in the New York Times, Brown, for what it’s worth, snapped, “We have too many damn laws. The coercive power of the state should be invoked sparingly.”

Today marks the return of a more or less normal feature of American life: Divided government. At the moment the prospects for a solution to the partial shutdown look dimmer than ever. But that’s often when the lightning strikes.

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